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Fine Motor Skills Toys for Pre-schoolers

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One of the most important and challenging jobs for children is the development of fine motor skills – the skills that are essential for most things in life, from picking up food to learning how to write.

A child must reach four essential bases in developing these fine motor skills:

  • Postural control base – strengthening of the larger muscles in the trunk and shoulders.
  • Touch perception – improving feedback from the fingers and hand and developing accuracy.
  • Bilateral control base – coordination of both sides of the body to develop coordination.
  • Hand function – developing the palmer, pincer and tripod grips for controlling pencils and other small objects.

There is no better way of helping your babies learn these skills quickly than with toys. The right toys not only build and perfect each of the essential bases, these also allow children to have hours of fun when doing so. Here are some of the best toys out there for developing fine motor skills in pre-school children.

Birth to Age 1

A great toy that will grow with your baby as they begin to grip and discover features is a teether blanket. Featuring textured fabrics, teethers, crinkles and wrinkles, these toys offer great stimulation and are wonderful to explore.

As your baby progresses towards six months, a gym provides plenty of interest, allowing them to spend time learning about textures and reaching to grab onto dangling toys. Like a baby gym, a soft play mat is also great for youngsters that are not yet crawling and include numerous activities that involve touching and gripping.

Baby gyms and play mats provide hours of fun and are probably the most fun babies can have while lying on their back!

From six months onwards, first reading books will provide excellent stimulation. Opt for soft books though, as babies will still be keen on putting things into their mouths.

Baby Walker

Ages 1 to 2

By the age of one, children will be able to feed themselves little pieces of food, develop a firm handgrip, and build and stack objects. This age is the perfect time to introduce some classic alphabet blocks. These wooden blocks feature different coloured letters and numbers as well as animal pictures and can be stacked or laid across the floor in rows for hours of happy playtime and some essential fine motor practice.

Children’s rapidly developing skills will also see them progress to putting shapes in the right places, so a wooden animal or transport puzzle will be a great stimulating toy.

It is between the ages of one and two (maybe before) that you will start to see a baby showing signs of being able to hold a pencil and put marks on paper. Therefore, you should provide some chunky crayons and plenty of drawing paper. Triangle crayons are a good choice as they are shaped for toddler hands and designed not to roll away.

Balls (of all sizes) are another great toy for fine motor development at this stage in a child’s life and can be picked up and pushed around. Ball games are also a great way for mum and dad to get involved in the fun.

To give fingers a good workout and strengthen muscles, get your children some play dough or plasticine and stencil accessories to let them squeeze and mould different shapes.

Ages 2 to 3

As babies progress well into the toddler stage, their fine motor skills really progress. At this age, they will be attempting to dress themselves independently and make controlled marks when drawing or painting. For two years olds, consider trading in the crayons for some colouring pencils or paints. Between two and three, they will be showing a clear hand preference, so the more they are encouraged to draw the better.

Knives, forks, and cutlery will be easier to handle, so a cutlery or cooking play set can be good. Kits to design your own mug or plate combine drawing with meal times and promote creativity.

Matching puzzle games and jigsaws with slightly greater difficulty than those for one-to-two year olds will be beneficial. At 24-30 months, children can generally thread large beads on a rope too, so shape-threading toys will offer great fun.

By the time they are three, kids will be rapidly increasing in both their hand function skills and their creativity. Now is a good stage to introduce a ‘My First Scissors’ kit for some simple, but fun, cutting. Make sure scissors are designed for both left and right-hand users so children can interchange and experiment.

For improvement of the palmar grip, a pump-action water pistol is an excellent summer toy and kids will have great fun spraying plants (or you) in the garden, while boosting grip strength.

Finally, some pincer games will really help to fine-tune those pincer grip motor skills before kids head off to school and begin learning different ways of using fingers and hands.

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